Not Just Propaganda: Contemporary Chinese Performance Art

This course presents samplings of theatrical propaganda performances in China, revealing a dynamic, commercial capacity in works often dismissed as artifacts of censorship, seen in films and plays from 1960s to the 2010s. It demonstrates how, in a socialist state with “capitalist characteristics,” propaganda performance turns biographies and war stories into mainstream ideological commodities, legitimizing the state and its right to rule. This illustrates revisionist histories that stage the lives of the “founding fathers” of the Communist Party, such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, and the engaging mix of elite and ordinary characters that animate official propaganda. It is through these reenactments that several generations of revolutionary leaders loom in extraordinary ways over Chinese culture, a tradition that continues in Xi Jinping’s regime.

Suggested reading: Staging Chinese Revolution, Xiaomei Chen, Columbia University Press, 2016

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